State agencies post FOIA responsibilities
Freedom of Information gained visibility at mid-year (at least in
the executive branch of state government), thanks to Attorney General
Jerry Kilgore and Del. Terri Suit, R-Virginia Beach.
Effective July 1, FOIA was amended to require state agencies to
post FOI "rights and responsibilities" on their Web sites.
Kilgore initiated the idea; Suit was the bill’s chief patron.
The Freedom of Information Advisory Council created a model template.
It includes designation of a FOI contact person at each agency. The
template could easily be adapted for use by local public bodies,
including governing bodies and school boards. Council staff say they
are happy to assist localities in such efforts.
A couple of good postings:
As Phyllis Cook pointed out in an article in Northern Virginia’s
Journal newspaper, "the new law also requires each agency to
state its policy about types of records it routinely withholds." The
template lists a few records exemptions applicable to all state agencies.
"Each agency needs to identify other exemptions it routinely
uses for inclusion in the document. They may also wish to amend other
provisions of the template to more accurately reflect its policies
concerning FOIA requests.
"For example, an agency may have an existing policy to only
charge a requester for records if the cost of the request exceeds
$15. In that case, the agency would want to amend the section of
the template addressing costs to capture this agency-specific policy. "
Allen answers the Qs
Say what you will about U.S. Sen. George Allen and his politics,
Virginia’s junior senator deserves respect and thanks from his
constituents for leveling with them -- and he’s not even
up for re-election this year.
When Allen sought the Senate seat in 2000, he was asked by Project
Vote Smart, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that neither supports
nor opposes candidates, to state publicly where he stood on a number
of issues. The idea was to present to the public some basic factual
information to help voters evaluate both the issues and candidates.
Maybe Allen was simply naive by professional political consultants’ standards,
but he completed an extensive, multipage questionnaire, giving his
positions on an array of issues, from taxation to national defense
to abortion to welfare policies.
Work sessions carried on Hampton's cable TV
Hampton City Council began televising its afternoon work sessions
Dec. 8, with rebroadcast in the evenings.
In the past, only the council’s evening meetings were broadcast
on the city ’s cable Channel 47.
As The Daily Press said in an editorial, "A lot of the public’s
business gets done at these informal meetings, and the public ought
to be able to listen in. "
The editorial urged cable companies and the Peninsula’s local
governments to explore ways to make such broadcasts available throughout
"Someone who lives in Hampton and works in Newport News might
be interested in the decisions made by the councils of both cities,
but now they can only watch broadcasts within their city," the
Danville interviews brought into the open
Appointment of interim local-government officials isn’t always
easy, even when the informal voting is behind closed doors (and
that’s permissible, according to a ruling from the FOI Advisory
In localities where public input is valued, school boards, municipal
bodies and boards of supervisors formally seek applicants, interview
some or all of the candidates in public, then may or may not go
into closed session to reach informal agreement on a preferred choice.
(FOIA requires only that the formal vote occur in public -- although
it should require more.)
In places where secrecy’s the norm, applications aren’t
sought, interviews never take place in the open. Voter backlash
inevitably follows -- along with negative newspaper editorials.
Some learn from the experience, some do not.
To its credit, Danville City Council learned from its mistake.
Two years ago, the council filled a vacancy in secret, prompting
The Danville Register & Bee to complain, "We didn’t
get to meet the applicants in an open forum; we didn’t get
to watch Council interview the 11 candidates. "
Twice burned (another appointment also got mishandled), the council
changed the city code to require open interviews.
When another vacancy came along, council interviewed the applicants
in open session. A positive editorial followed.
Suffolk holds nearby retreat
The city council’s out-of-area retreats drew a lot of criticism
in years past. Some complained of taxpayer cost. Others lamented
lack of access to citizens.
Council got the message. For the latest planning retreat, a site
was picked in nearby Williamsburg.
De-fusing the NIMBY fights
Not-in-My-BackYard arguments almost always pop up when sites suddenly
are proposed for prisons or regional jails (just ask Roanoke County,
where several hundred citizens recently marched on the courthouse).
With a legislator’s help, the NIMBY backlash was avoided in
one Western Virginia locality.
Extra public hearings were held, other prison sites were visited
and employee work conditions were researched.
"Whatever your opinion on the proposed Grayson County prison," The
Galax Gazette editorial page said, "you have to agree that
county supervisors are handling the matter in a thoroughly professional
"From the start, when Del. Bill Carrico, R-Fries, first announced
that he was hoping to steer the project and its 300-plus jobs to
western Grayson, the supervisors have held all their discussions
in public and kept the public informed every step of the way. "
"E-governance" in Culpeper
Town council’s embracing the idea of "paperless meetings."
Nine council members and two officials are getting laptops, at
a cost of just under $2,000 each.
Town and county board documents are posted online (for members
and the public). The county boardroom, where both town council and
the board of supervisors hold their regular meetings, will be equipped
with wi-fi and plasma screen TVs so the audience can follow along
with meeting information as elected representatives view it at their
seats on computer screens.
Town Manager Brannon Godfrey said any word processing would be
an appropriate use for the town-issued computers, but he cautioned
council about downloading programs from the Internet.
"All the information on (the laptops) is subject to FOIA requests," he
U.Va. Judiciary Committee holds its first open trial
The University of Virginia’s Judiciary Committee held a four-hour
open trial in September, apparently the first such open trial in
UJC ’s history.
Angela Carrico, UJC chair, said "it was good for the UJC to
let some people see how our trial process works." In the trial,
a Tibetan activist was found guilty of violating two University
Standards of Conduct and was sentenced to 20 hours of community
service. The graduate student had tried to chain himself to a banister
in the Dome Room of the Rotunda during a speech by the Chinese ambassador.
The UJC hears all cases involving violations of the Standards of
Conduct, and can impose any sanction, ranging from oral admonition